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Minister of State for Justice and Civil Liberties visits Together’s Liaison and Diversion service at Thames Magistrates Court

Posted on 05, March 2015

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Simon Hughes, Minister of State for Justice and Civil Liberties, yesterday visited Together’s Liaison and Diversion service at Thames Magistrates Court, run in partnership with East London NHS Foundation Trust.

The service forms part of NHS England’s London trial site for Liaison and Diversion which Together was selected to lead in April last year, and has a specific emphasis on identifying and addressing the needs of women. Around 13,500 women are still sent to prison each year1. More than half of these women have severe mental illness and the same proportion will have experienced domestic violence2. In order to reduce the risk that they will go on to reoffend in the future, it is vital that the criminal justice system takes into account their complex needs and works to address them appropriately.

Liaison and diversion services aim to identify and assess individuals with vulnerabilities, such as mental health needs, as soon as they come into contact with the criminal justice system, so they can be referred into treatment or support services.

During the visit, Simon Hughes heard from Together’s frontline practitioners about how they identify and address women’s needs through assessment, referral to services and by preparing reports for the court, and the positive impact these actions have on the women’s outcomes.

Together’s team of Liaison and Diversion Practitioners at the service assesses the needs of vulnerable individuals appearing at the court, and an additional two Community Support Workers help them to engage with relevant mental health support and other local services to tackle things like housing, addictions or debt. By helping people tackle their problems, the likelihood of reoffending can be significantly reduced

One of Together’s three practitioners specialises in supporting women appearing at the court regardless of whether they have an identified mental health need. As well as ensuring women can access relevant support, Together’s Women’s Practitioner prepares reports for the court to give the judiciary vital information to help them make decisions about bail and remand. This may help to avoid jail terms where alternative sentences in the community would be more appropriate, and give women the best chance of breaking the cycle of offending.

In addition to the work Together does in court, Liaison and Diversion teams are also present in police custody suites. A multi-disciplinary team from East London NHS Foundation Trust works alongside the police at police stations, and with Together’s Liaison and Diversion Practitioners at Thames Magistrates’ court. They undertake assessments to make appropriate referrals for treatment and support. They ensure that criminal justice professionals are notified of the specific health requirements and vulnerabilities of an individual, which can be taken into account when decisions about charging and sentencing are made. The team therefore provides an identification, assessment and referral service rather than a treatment service.

A particular area of focus for the Liaison and Diversion service is housing for women, and in the early stages of the project, a need for urgent accommodation for women without a stable address was identified as an important factor in preventing unnecessary prison remands or custodial sentences. Past housing provision, where available, had meant the women were often housed outside the borough, far from their family and support networks, and the accommodation came with no additional support. Together developed a partnership with St Mungo’s Broadway and secured funding from the Department of Health to provide five dedicated placements in good-quality supported accommodation in Hackney (these are now funded by NHS England). This is just one of several pilots of different housing pathways in Together’s services for women.

Simon Hughes, Minister of State for Justice and Civil Liberties, said: “The Together charity and East London NHS Foundation Trust are helping London women who become involved in the criminal justice system address the underlying issues which contribute to their offending behaviour.

By taking this approach we will not only create a safer society, but a fairer one, where they, and their families, are given the opportunity they need to get their lives back on track.”

Liz Felton, CEO of Together said: “Far too many women end up in a cycle of offending, the root causes of which are often complex issues such as mental distress, addiction and domestic violence. Liaison and diversion is a crucial service that ensures their needs are recognised and addressed and that they can access the support they need to break this cycle.

This relies on strong, effective partnerships between organisations, and between the justice, health and social care systems. Together has been using this approach for over 20 years and we are excited to lead on the further expansion of the London trial site in NHS England’s initiative to make this service available everywhere in the country.

We’re thrilled to welcome Simon Hughes to our service at Thames Magistrates’ Court to see first-hand how our practitioners identify those women who need support and then ensure they can access things like safe accommodation, help with issues such as domestic violence and addictions, and support to tackle the underlying causes of their offending.”

Together is currently the largest single provider of liaison and diversion services in London, having developed and expanded provision over the past 20 years in partnership with probation in London and a range of NHS Trusts. Together currently operates 20 such projects including in ten Magistrates Courts, two Crown Courts and five police custody suites.

In December, Together was chosen by NHS England as a key partner to expand the London trial site for liaison and diversion to West, North West and Central London. This new phase of the site will include a Together service at Westminster Magistrates’ Court which will also include dedicated provision for women.

In 2013, Together launched a guide offering professionals the tools to recognise and respond to the health and wellbeing needs of women offenders.

References:

1. Reforming Women’s Justice: reducing the imprisonment of women (November 2012). The Prison Reform Trust. http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/Portals/0/Documents/Womenleaflet.pdf

2. Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile (December 2010). The Prison Reform Trust. http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/Portals/0/Documents/FactfileDec10small.pdf

3. A Distinct Approach: A guide to working with women offenders. NOMS Women and Equalities Group (March 2012). http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/publications/noms/2012/guide-working-with-women-offenders.pdf